Amsterdam to keep pulling in millions of foreign soft-drug users as Dutch ditch controversial ‘weed pass’ law

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 8:10 EDT
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A tourist smokes a cannabis joint in Amsterdam in 2003. (AFP)
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Dutch cities are to decide themselves whether to bar foreign drug tourists from so-called coffee-shops, after the government scrapped its unpopular “weed pass” law.

The move will allow Amsterdam to keep pulling in millions of foreign soft-drug users, while allowing border towns to clamp down on crime related to drug tourism.

“The best way of seeing which measures are effective is at local level,” Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten said in a letter sent to parliament late Monday.

“We are abandoning the ‘cannabis card’,” he added.

The Dutch government announced a year ago that it was introducing a law to ban foreigners from entering dope-dealing “coffee-shops”, also forcing local smokers to show identification and register in a database.

Called the “cannabis card” law, it rolled out in May in three southern Dutch provinces that attract many Belgian, French and German drug tourists.

The move was aimed at curbing drug-related phenomena like late-night revelry, traffic jams and dealing in hard drugs.

But its critics said it simply pushed drug peddling onto the streets of southern cities like Maastricht and Tilburg and led to a rise in crime.

Coffee-shop owners in the south were pleased that tourists could now at least buy drugs somewhere, but lamented the fact that their own establishments remained off-limits.

“This legislation won’t change much for us,” said Willem Vugs, who heads the coffee-shop association in Tilburg.

“It’s less than an hour’s drive further for tourists to go from a city where they can’t buy to a city where they can,” Vugs said. “The Netherlands is a small country.”

Around 65 percent of customers at coffee-shops in Maastricht, which lies close to the German and Belgian borders, used to be foreigners.

“We will continue to apply the residence criteria,” Maastricht town hall spokesman Gertjan Bos told AFP.

Bos said the ban on non-residents buying cannabis since May 2011 had been “a success”.

Away from the Dutch border cities — which suffer most from drug-tourism related incidents — Amsterdam said it would simply keep allowing foreigners access.

Roughly a fifth of the city’s seven million annual visitors visit one or more of its 220 cannabis cafes.

Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan had strongly criticised the cannabis card plan, saying it would have “undone the advantages of Amsterdam’s coffee-shop system” and increase health and safety risks if drug sales moved onto the streets.

Opstelten wrote in his letter: “Local authorities can (now) determine their policies on coffee-shops and ensure its implementation.”

Although cannabis is technically illegal in The Netherlands, the country in 1976 decriminalised possession of less than five grammes (around a sixth of an ounce) of the drug.

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
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